Thursday night’s debacle with Garn was promoted and perhaps even orchestrated by Utah’s Speaker of the House, Dave Clark. According to news reports, he was notified of the accusations on Monday morning. He didn’t bother talking to Garn until Tuesday, when the story was confirmed by Garn. Lapse in judgment #1. Then, instead of asking for and accepting his resignation on the spot, he gave Garn cover through the end of the session. Lapse in judgement #2.
On Thursday night, he canceled the end-of-the session festivities and gave Garn the floor. Lapse #3. Some House members found out that the Garn was going to be making an announcement and “it was bad”. Some did not even have that courtesy extended to them. Almost none were told what the announcement would be. Lapse #4. When former Representative Brent Parker was arrested in 2003 for soliciting sex from an undercover male police officer, then Speaker of the House Marty Stevens closed the caucuses and lawmakers were told what happened – BEFORE a bombshell was dropped in their laps. It is unconscionable that Speaker Clark could not figure out he should probably let the House members know what was coming. In addition, there are House members who are saying privately that Kevin Garn was prepared to resign Thursday night, but was talked out of it by the Speaker himself, who told Representative Garn that he was confident he could “weather the storm”. Serious lapse in judgement #5.
After the speech that never should have taken place on the House floor, Dave Clark spoke:
“We know a man of integrity, leadership, who is willing to give a helping hand to every member of this body,” he said. Addressing Garn directly, he continued: “You are an asset to the state of Utah. I ask that all of us share in honoring a man that we know has served honorably and capably in this body, and we’re proud to do so.” Even worse, he added “I hope you will remain with us.” Clark then led the House in a standing ovation. Lapses #6 and #7. He should NEVER have praised him and NEVER EVER should have initiated a standing ovation.
Continuing to make matters worse, Speaker Clark sent out a message over the weekend accepting Garn’s resignation. You will notice there is not one word or expression of regret to Garn’s young victim (now grown). He starts with “I am grateful to Representative Garn and his family for the time he spent in service to the State of Utah”. That and other statements like “Mistakes made many years ago should not detract from the good work the Representative has done during his time in the Utah House of Representatives” minimize the seriousness of the crime. To quote the Salt Lake Tribune from this weekend, this is much more than “just a mistake”. There are some things in life that will – and should – overshadow the “good” someone does in other arenas. Lapse #8.
Clark continues “While not condoning his inappropriate actions, we wanted to show support to a colleague” (his first admission that maybe this wasn’t the best course of action). “A standing ovation is a standard custom of the House, and was a natural conclusion to Representative Garn’s difficult and emotional statement.” I do not agree that it was a “natural conclusion” to Garn’s statement. In fact, I believe it was outrageous and to have it orchestrated by the speaker of the House makes it even more so. The “natural conclusion” would have been silence, then a filing out of Representatives without stopping to talk to Garn. Trying to cover his backside here is lapse #9.
Clark finishes his statement by saying “I sincerely appreciate those who evaluate this situation with a sense of justice and compassion for everyone involved.”
I believe justice for the state of Utah and the reputation of the Utah House of Representatives, now in tatters, demands that Speaker Clark resign immediately from his leadership role. Compassion may allow for him to remain as a member of the House.
I wholeheartedly agree with the Daily Herald’s well-written editorial “Hold the Applause: A Shameful Moment in the Utah House” that concludes like this:
Now the Legislature needs to recover. The House should review carefully how it responded to Garn on Thursday night and how the matter was handled by its leadership. Speaker Clark should explain forthrightly what he knew and when he knew it. If he orchestrated Garn’s theatrical moment, he should step down.
Character does matter. And so does keeping a respectable distance from a member whose personal behavior has dragged the reputation of the entire House — and the state — through the muck.